Spending the day exploring Colombo | Sri Lanka

                                                              In August I spent three weeks travelling around Sri Lanka and it quickly became one of my favourite countries. We flew in from Kochi, India with Sri Lankan Airlines on one of the shortest flights I've ever been on (minus the flight from Birmingham to Edinburgh). It was only an hour yet we had a TV with plenty of movies and we also got a proper meal. Which may have just been fried rice but it was nice to have something to nibble on. Although by the time we got the food it was pretty much time to land!

                                                                                     It was also one of the most cramped flights I've been on. Think Ryanair but worse. The person in front of me also decided they wanted their chair reclined ALL the way back. I mean, I understand people want to be comfy but on an hour long flight having your chair all the way back is slightly annoying for the person behind you who is now extra squished. Anyway, enough of me moaning.

Our first stop in Sri Lanka was the capital Colombo. I had done a fair bit of research before our trip and a lot of people had said that Colombo wasn't really that great so to either avoid it or only spend a night there. We decided to give it a go and stay for one night just to see for ourselves whether Colombo was as average as everyone said it was. Long story short: it is. Having said that I don't feel like I wasted a day there, it was still a nice introduction to Sri Lanka.

We stayed in the CityRest Fort hostel. There aren't that many hostels in Colombo, I mean Hostelworld will give you plenty of results but when you look at the location of these most are 7-9 km away from the centre. We settled on this one, breakfast was included and it was reasonably priced at £12 for the night. Slightly expensive for Sri Lanka but not breaking the bank. 

We arrived early evening and were greeted with a drink and face towel. It was great! Especially for a hostel. The place does feel a bit more like a hotel, I'm not sure if there was a common area. There was a breakfast room but that seemed to be only for food. We were only staying one night though so weren't fussed about socialising.

Our first night was spent searching for food. It's surprising how early places shut. We were in quite a nice area of Colombo meaning there were mostly restaurants rather than local places to grab a quick bite. Most were shut and after wandering around, asking two men the nearest place to eat and having them invite us to a pub instead, we decided to go to pizza hut. Yep, my first meal in Sri Lanka was a pizza hut pizza. Don't get me wrong I do like western food whilst I'm in Asia. I get bored of eating the same sort of meal all the time but for once I actually didn't fancy pizza. I wanted something local. But we wouldn't get this until the next day.

                                                                 The first thing we did when we woke up the next day (minus the usual getting ready and eating) was to head to the train station to buy tickets for our train to Polonnarawu. This was easier said than done. Each booth was for a different destination, we queued at one that didn't seem to have a set destination and were told we needed to go inside to the office because we wanted 2nd class reserved. There were still tickets left so we chose 2nd class rather than 1st (which had air con). I was a bit skeptical and worried that I'd be too hot but it was fine. The windows were massive and there were fans in the carriage. Although one of the fans kept sparking which was a little worrying but safety measures aren't quite the same in Sri Lanka!

We also saved ourselves a bit of money by going 2nd class, our tickets cost 630 rupees each (£3.46) rather than around 1250 rupees (£6.87). Both are obviously very cheap for a 6/7 hour journey but saving money where you can means you can put it towards splurging when needed. 

Getting to Colombo

I can't comment much on getting here via public transport because we came from the airport rather than another destination in Sri Lanka. I think it's fairly easy to get to using public transport due to it being the capital city. There were plenty of destinations you could get to via train from Colombo so I'm guessing you could also get to Colombo from all of those places.

We chose to use public transport from the airport to the city to save money. Taxis were pricey and there were only two of us. It took us a while to find the public bus partly because there wasn't many signs and partly because everyone we asked seemed to give us conflicting information. I think they just wanted us to get in their taxi as many told us a taxi would be much better. We even got some following us! We stuck to our guns and insisted that we were fine with the public bus.

The bus took quite a while to leave, I think it was waiting for more people to fill the bus up or maybe it just wasn't meant to leave for a while. We didn't have a timetable so didn't know when it's departure time was. The men on the bus was pretty helpful, they told us when to get off which saved us from missing the stop. It was dark by this point so hard to get your bearings when looking out the window plus we were in a completely new place so didn't even know what the bus terminal looked like.

The bus took around an hour  and was around 120 Sri Lankan rupees. As i'm writing this (Jan 2017) this is a mere 66p. Yes 66p! Compared to the near $30 that we would have ended up paying for a taxi. In this case going local was definitely worth it.

Getting around

It's very easy to get a tuk tuk to take you around. We did a lot of walking whilst in Colombo so didn't use any transport other than a tuk tuk. Like usual make sure you agree on a price before getting in and bargain for a suitable price. Colombo is fairly spread out so if you're moving around town then a tuk tuk will help save some time. 

Walking, however, does allow you to see more of the city. If we had not walked to the temple we visited then we wouldn't have discovered the little island we explored or the place we ate lunch at.

What to see

I'm going to be honest, we really didn't see much. We didn't get up super early and due to walking to the temple (which took nearly an hour) time soon went. I don't really feel like I've missed out on much by not seeing more of Colombo. What I saw I liked but I wasn't that fussed about the city overall. We chose one main thing to see, the Gangaramaya Temple. I'm happy we chose to visit this temple. It was, however, one of the oddest temples I've ever been to. Actually, it is the oddest temple I've ever been to. 

We walked to the temple so we could experience colombo by foot and stop off if we wanted to. On our way we discovered the Gangaramaya park which you reach by crossing a slightly scary bridge because it is surrounded by water due to being on the Beira Lake. The park is very small and you can easily walk around it in 10 minutes. It's also home to lots of ducks and some rabbits. They were just hopping around! 

We also passed the Seema Malaka which is another temple. The picture below shows Buddha statues at this temple. We didn't go inside as we were already heading to the Gangaramaya temple. 

                                                           The entrance to the Gangaramaya temple was 300 rupees (£1.65). You had to leave your shoes in a basket before going in. You first enter a temple where pictures are permitted. You then exit into a courtyard area where there are various things to look at. I never quite got the gist of the temple, it seemed a bit random. That's what I mean when I say it was the oddest temple I've been too. There were more inside areas but they were home to lots of glass units full of items such as bowls and glasses or certain stones. It was very interesting to wander around but I also felt like I had entered an emporium full of very random things. There were more buddha statues outside and a museum area. 

                                                                           I don't feel like I'm setting a great picture for the place. It was very interesting but if you want a temple that feels like an actual temple, where you'll see plenty of locals then this probably isn't the temple for you. But if you want somewhere slightly random and a bit different then definitely check this out. And for the price you can't really go wrong!

After finishing at the temple we were hoping to grab something to eat but found it very hard to find an actual restaurant. We found one, very touristy, one with very overpriced food but other than that there wasn't really anywhere. I think this was due to our location we weren't in the main city but rather slightly on the outskirts.

We decided our hunger could wait and walked to the Viharamahadevi Park. This park is pretty big but we only stayed on the outskirts to have a rest and catch up on some reading. It was a lovely place to relax until the bench I was sitting on became over run with ants. We made a swift exit. We ended up getting a tuk tuk back to our hostel because I really didn't fancy walking nearly an hour to get home because I'm lazy and also really needed a wee.

Once we got back to the hostel we didn't really do anything else other than stocking up on some snacks for our train journey that evening.

Where to eat

Seeing as I only spent a day in Colombo and my meal the night before was a pizza from Pizza Hut, I can't offer many suggestions of where to eat. In fact, I only had one proper meal in Colombo because breakfast was served at the hostel and we bought snacks for our train in the evening.

                    Lunch was my first experience of traditional Sri Lankan food. And boy was it spicy! Even Kate who loves spice said it was surprisingly hot. We found the little restaurant area on the way to the temple. You had to buy a lunch ticket and then line up and you were given a portion of each bowl of food. I opted not to have the fish dish because quite frankly it didn't really look that appetising. I also was trying to avoid fish and meat. I wasn't overly careful and as soon as we hit the beaches I lived off seafood but I wasn't going to risk it on my first day in the country. As you can see from the picture below the food was pretty basic but it was extremely cheap and tasted great. We also got special treatment because we were the only tourists and they seemed to love having us eat at their restaurant. I say restaurant but this was all actually outside. There was an inside but it was more of a canopy covering the area.

                                                  We also stopped off at a bakery which you'll find lots of in Sri Lanka. Our first experience of a bakery was fairly similar to one you'd find in the UK. Obviously still very different but it sold cakes and doughnuts and also savoury pastries. I had a chicken samosa and it was also really good.

Our only other food stop off was the complete opposite to our first. We ended up at a very nice cafe just round the corner from our hostel. The place was a lot like a costa but nicer and served a range of teas. They also offered a really cool looking afternoon tea but we only stopped for a drink.

Overall, I do agree when other bloggers say that Colombo isn't that fab but I still think it's worth spending the day there if your itinerary permits it; especially if you're already there because of flights.  It was a nice introduction to Sri Lanka but I was very excited to head north to Polonnarawu to see a bit more of the local life.  



  • Get to the train station early if you're catching a train and book beforehand even if you book on the same day make sure you book on the morning, not before your train.
  • Head to one of the temples; they're cheap and interesting!
  • Find where the locals eat and experience Sri Lankan curry
  • Tuk tuks are easy to find and the easiest way to get round the city
  • Ask for help at the station! The workers and locals are all very friendly. 
Have you visited Colombo? Were you underwhelmed or do you think it's a hidden treasure?



  1. Really nice post! I do think you need to give Colombo a second chance with a bit more time to explore the city :)

    1. Yes I think it probably does deserve a second chance! If I ever go back to Sri Lanka I'll spend a few days there :)

  2. I am volunteering in Sri Lanka this upcoming May for 5 weeks and can't wait to explore! Will definitely keep your tips in mind in regards to public transport x


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